Monday, February 25, 2013

Myanmar President Heads to EU Talks

Myanmar leader Thein Sein was on Monday set to embark on his first visit to Europe as president which will include high level EU talks, officials said, as the fast-reforming country deepens ties with the West.

Thein Sein was scheduled to leave Yangon on Monday evening and would fly to Norway, followed by Finland, Austria, Belgium and Italy, officials said.

The trip to Belgium would include both bilateral and “EU high level meetings”, a European diplomat told AFP.

A second European diplomatic source said the topics to be discussed would include sanctions and development aid as well as economic reforms, the country’s human rights record and efforts to negotiate peace in ongoing conflicts.

A Myanmar government official confirmed the destinations on the tour, adding that it would be the president’s “first trip to Europe.”

Thein Sein has impressed the international community with a string of reforms since coming to power in early 2011, including welcoming long-detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi into parliament and freeing hundreds of political prisoners.

The European Union responded last April by suspending all sanctions apart from an arms embargo against the former pariah state, while the United States has also dismantled many of its key trade and investment sanctions.

But concerns remain over an ongoing conflict in the northern state of Kachin and communal Buddhist-Muslim unrest in the western state of Rakhine.

Suu Kyi visited Norway as part of a landmark European tour last June that was seen as a key sign of change for Myanmar, where she had spent a total of 15 years under house arrest.

In Oslo the Nobel laureate was finally able to collect her peace prize in person, after being awarded the honor in 1991. She had previously declined to leave the country for fear she would never be allowed to return.

Signs of increasingly warm ties between Suu Kyi and Thein Sein, a former junta general, were apparent when the pair met in New York in September during historic separate visits to the United States.

Thein Sein is due to return to Myanmar on March 8.- The Jakarta Globe (February 25, 2013)

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